Monday, 9 April 2012

Home to Waterstones

When I think about writing The Book of Summers, a couple of decisions stand out as having particularly helped its progress; one was taking my self-styled writing sabbatical in 2010, and the other was to extend it. At the start of that year I resigned from my job in a marketing agency and lived on a shoestring for six months, my sole ambition to finish writing The Book of Summers. I'd already been working on the manuscript for two and a half years, but I knew that if I wanted it to be as good as I thought it could be, I needed to give it more time. All writers work differently, and many under far greater life pressures than I was enduring, but I felt I needed to free myself up in order to write the way I wanted to. I feared I wasn't being self-critical enough and with six months off, I knew I could give myself a clear run at it, reshaping the narrative, asking all the tough questions I knew I needed to and not be afraid of the answers. My husband is a comic book writer, used to up and down incomes of his own, but he was wholly supportive of my choice to chuck in my steady job and so we began 2010 on a tight budget, saying 'no' to a lot of things, and working away in our little Bristol flat, heads and hearts full of dreams. 

In those six months The Book of Summers began to take on a new shape and I liked the look of it. I knew if I took another six months and carried on at the same pace then by the end of the year my manuscript would be ready to send out to agents. But my funds were dwindling fast and I needed a part-time job. It was too soon to go back to my old world as I knew it would swallow me up again. I wanted something I could pick up and put down again at the end of the day and pay me just enough to get by. I flirted with the idea of waitressing - I'd always liked it as a student, getting by on a wing and a smile - so I did a couple of trial shifts at local restaurants. One was an upmarket fish place and they were looking for someone who could open wine at table deftly (nope) and carry three or more plates at a time (also nope), so I failed dismally. The other wanted me to work several unpaid shifts, the first mostly consisting of me folding napkins. I think after I'd folded the first few they could assess my capabilities, so I said thanks but no thanks. I also applied for three part-time admin jobs at the university, imagining myself cycling to campus in the september sun, scarf flying behind me, Ali MacGraw style. I didn't even get an interview - all my years of advertising and marketing meant nothing when more than 300 people had applied for each position. I began to worry I'd been rash. I'd burnt through my savings. I was ill-qualified for the kind of jobs I thought I wanted, and self-aware enough to know that I harboured distinctly romantic notions about them, anyway. I spent most of the summer worrying about what my next move should be, my day's writing interspersed with lists of pros & cons and scouring job sites. I began to wonder if my best option was, after all, to go back to the marketing world that I knew inside out. Then I saw that my local Waterstones were looking for Christmas temps. I applied in a flash. My only retail experience was a six-month stint in a French snowboard shop but I loved books, boy, did I love books. As I was waiting to hear I went for a long walk through the grounds of Ashton Court Manor. The estate overlooks the whole of Bristol, and the trees were just turning to Autumn gold. I caught a falling leaf and made a wish - an old habit. 

At the end of September I started working part-time at Waterstones Bristol Galleries as one of the first batch of Christmas temps, and it was to Waterstones Bristol Galleries that I returned on saturday, for my first instore signing. It was wonderful to see so many familiar faces, and receive such a warm welcome. I hung my coat and bag on a peg in the staff-room (where I'd eaten many a peanut butter sandwich, leafed through many a dog-eared Bookseller, chatted many a bookish chat) and sat down at the table that was waiting for me. A stack of The Book of Summers to one side, and a Sharpie at the ready. I smiled and I felt at home. I owe a big thank you to Waterstones, not just for having me on saturday and supporting The Book of Summers so thoroughly, but also for employing me in 2010. For it was that part-time job which allowed me to maintain the momentum of my sabbatical - keeping my head down, my spirits up and my funds level - I'll always think of it with a mix of gratitude, relief and a terrific sense of freedom. It was the home stretch to The Book of Summers, an appropriate end to my year of writing and the beginning of so much more.